Epiphany reignites Sweden’s public holiday debate

Epiphany reignites Sweden's public holiday debate
Workers in Sweden have only had two days to return to life on the job following their Christmas vacations before gearing up for yet another paid holiday on Wednesday.

As most of the Swedish labour force makes plans for how to spend the Epiphany holiday (Trettondedag jul), there are some who question why exactly throngs of secular Swedes should stay home from work on a Christian holiday, which is only considered a public holiday in a handful of countries.

“It’s a time to focus on the guiding star and the three men who out of curiosity followed the star to Jesus,” Martin Modeús of the Church of Sweden told the TT news agency.

But exactly which days are recognized in Sweden has been a controversial topic, especially since a 2005 decision to ditch the Monday after Whitsunday (Annandag Pingst) as a public holiday and replace it with National Day, which is celebrated on June 6th.

Whitsunday, also known as the Pentecost, celebrated on the fiftieth day after Easter Sunday, marks the Holy Spirit’s descent to the Apostles and other followers of Jesus.

Two years following the switch, the Almega employers’ organization proposed that all public holidays should be made religion-neutral.

According to Almega’s suggestion, each employer would instead define for itself which days would be considered paid public holidays.

Later that year, employees working within the Almega-member Swedish Federation of Consulting Engineers and Architects (Svensk teknik och design) signed a new collective wage agreement which allowed for exactly the sort of choice proposed by Almega.

“That means that employers and their employees can reach an agreement about which days will be considered a paid holiday,” Almega negotiator Gunnar Järsjö told TT.

But regardless of one’s reasons for celebrating Epiphany, Modéus from the Church of Sweden thinks the occasion should be recognized.

“If for no other reason than that Christmas can be filled with obligations, which makes Epiphany something of a break following the break,” he said.

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